Maintain your bilge pump
Your bilge pump might be the most overlooked device on a boat—that is, until you need it. With proper planning and routine maintenance, your bilge pump will work when needed, and you won’t be forced to man the bailing buckets to stay afloat.
What size bilge pump?
Make sure your pump has enough capacity for the job. What size pump do you need? In my view, to move water out of the boat, you need at least a 2,000-gallon-per-hour pump; bigger boats and those going offshore should have more.
While that sounds like a lot, consider that a 1-inch hole (like a broken through hull) one foot below the waterline will flood at 12 gallons per minute—that’s 720 gallons per hour. Once installed, however, a 1,000-gph pump may lose 15 to 30% capacity depending on hose type, head and filters. Assuming a 25% loss, a 1,000-gph pump will only evacuate 750 gallons per hour at best. That leaves a small 30-gph margin of error.
Bilge pump maintenance
Pumps themselves seldom fail, but putting an electric device in saltwater invites electrical issues. Check those connections as part of your routine maintenance and test the float-switch at the same time. I believe every pump should also have a manual switch in case it’s needed.
While it costs a little extra, consider carrying a spare pump so you can replace a failed pump on the fly. If you store it with a battery clip pigtail and some hose, it can serve as an additional pump on your boat or someone else’s. Mine came in handy late one night when my dock neighbors’ boat was in danger of sinking because they had inadequate pumps. –Scott Morris
Prepare for any crisis
Learn how to handle any emergency while underway by taking our Emergencies Onboard seminar.